Monday, July 18, 2011

The Top Instrumentals of the Rock Era, Part 8

You will find several lists of the top instrumentals so this one is far from being the only one.  It is, however, unique in that I tried to base it on what the public thinks, leaving my personal bias out of it.  For it doesn't matter what a so-called "expert" or professional in the music business thinks.  History will always record what the public likes.

So I base a good deal of this list on chart performance at the time, single and album sales to this point in history, and how the song holds up today.  I have put a considerable amount of time and effort into coming up with this list.  Although I believe it contains The Top 100 Instrumentals of the Rock Era*, it doesn't start getting great until the top 85 or so.  

What is great about instrumentals is that the songwriter is free to focus solely on the music.  Artists today have gotten away from that--when you strip the song from its jive and 21st century sound effects, all you have is the music.  By listening to these instrumentals, hopefully we'll get back to what matters when composing a song. 

 Of course, I do realize that beginning in the 1980's, we as a society began cutting music programs to the bone so really we have only ourselves to blame for the poor quality of "music" these days.  I know my own knowledge of music (I play the saxophone, clarinet and have played piano since age 5 and was in a group of 12 that was selected to sing at our church's world conference in Portland, Oregon and then toured throughout the country...) would not have been as great were it not for music education in the schools.  I hope we can get back to providing more funds for that, to stimulate our children's interest in music.

Getting back to the other "lists" you may see on the web.  They are great, but what is a music site without music?!  Thus, you actually get to hear the songs that are in the list.  Many I was not familiar with until I started researching for this special.

For navigation, the song titles are below the embedded YouTube video.  For ease of use, I have separated the list into 10 segments of 10 songs each.  Part 9 will appear on this blog July 21.  I strongly recommend playing each song in order--with any luck (if I've done my homework (and I have!)), each one should sound better than the last.  At least that's the goal.
30.  "Rebel Rouser" by Duane Eddy

Producer Lee Hazlewood was a Phoenix disc jockey before he met Eddy.  Hazelwood had Eddy record this song in a grain silo.  A speaker was place at one end, the microphone at the other, and the guitar "twang" was piped in there, which gave the song the echo you hear.  The song reached #6.

Eddy's first album was titled Have Twangy Guitar Will Travel.  He said to Mojo magazine last year:

"We were recording in Phoenix, starting my first album, and one of the guys said, 'Man, that guitar sounds twangy.'  Lester Sill, Hazlewood's business partner, fell down laughing.  It became a running joke ("Is that twangy enough?")  So we finished the album and called it Have Twangy Guitar Will Travel.  To be honest I never really liked the word. I thought it was kind of corny and rather undignified, but at the same time so many people liked it I just shut up and went with it."

29.  "Theme From 'S.W.A.T."--Rhythm Heritage

"Theme From 'S.W.A.T.'" was written by Barry DeVorzon and Rhythm Heritage's version was based on the television theme song for the popular 1970's show.  The song hit #1 on the popular chart in 1976, reached #6 on the Adult Contemporary chart and sold over a million copies.

Rhythm Heritage also recorded themes to other television shows such as "Keep Your Eye on the Sparrow", the theme to Baretta.  Ray Parker, Jr. at one time was in Rhythm Heritage and of course went on to form the group Raydio and become a successful solo performer ("Ghostbusters").  Another member was keyboardist Michael Omartian, who produced albums by Rod Stewart, Whitney Houston, the Jacksons, Donna Summer, Christopher Cross, Michael Bolton, Steely Dan and Amy Grant.  In 1985, Omartian co-produced the #1 song "We Are the World" with Quincy Jones.  Omartian became the first person to produce #1 songs in three consecutive decades.  
28.  "Theme From 'The Good, the Bad and the Ugly', by Hugo Montenegro

The #29 Instrumental of the Rock Era* was Hugo Montenegro's cover version of the theme song to the 1966 movie which starred Clint Eastwood.  It reached #2 in February of 1968 on the popular chart, kept out of the top position by the classic Simon and Garfunkel song "Mrs. Robinson".  It reached #1 for three weeks on the Adult Contemporary chart however.

Montenegro was hired as Music Director of Time Records, producing a series of albums and composed the theme from the television series The Man From U.N.C.L.E..  He also composed the score for the 1969 western Charro starring Elvis Presley.

27.  "Also Sprach Zarathustra" by Deodato

"Also Sprach Zarathustra" or "Also Spake Zarathustra" was written by Richard Strauss in 1896, inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche's philosophical novel of the same name.  The piece lasts about 30 minutes and consists of nine sections with only three definitive pauses.   Eumir Deodata recorded this great version in 1972 for the movie 2001:  A Space Odyssey.  The song is synonymous with the film and the nine-minute single reached #2 in March of 1973, bested only by "Love Train" by the O'Jays and "Killing Me Softly With His Song" by Roberta Flack.  It also hit #5 on the Adult Contemporary chart.  "Also Sprach Zarathustra" won the Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance.

Deodado began developing instrumental and orchestration ability in his early teens.  He worked as a pianist and arranger in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in the bossa nova genre that was popular at the time.  He moved to New York City to get away from the military dictatorship in Brazil.   Deodato later produced for Kool & the Gang from 1979-1982. 

26.  "Pick Up the Pieces" by Average White Band

"Pick Up the Pieces" reached #1 in 1975, sold over a million copies and was the runner-up to "TSOP" by MFSB and the Three Degrees for Best Instrumental of 1975.  It is featured in the movie Superman II starring Christopher Reeve, Gene Hackman and Margot Kidder.

Average White Band formed in 1972 in London by Scottish natives.  They got their big break when they opened for Eric Clapton in his comeback tour.  They soon moved to Los Angeles and signed a recording contract with Atlantic Records.  Average White Band shortened their name to AWB for their second album.  Steve Ferrone, formerly of Bloodstone, later was in Paul McCartney's touring group while Harnish Stuart joined Duran Duran.   

25.  "Fly, Robin, Fly" by Silver Convention

Although the song, like "Pick Up the Pieces" before it, contains a few words, both are generally considered  and are by in large "instrumentals".  "Fly, Robin, Fly" was #1 for three weeks, #1 on the R&B chart and sold over a million copies.  The song was featured in the movie Boogie Nights.  It was the first song ever from a German group to reach the top in America.  "Fly, Robin, Fly" won a Grammy for Best R&B Instrumental Performance.

Silver Convention was named after producer Sylvester Levay, whose nickname was "silver".  Levay and fellow producer Michael Kunze formed the studio group in Munich, Germany.  The group represented Germany in the 1977 Eurovision Contest with "Telegram".

24.  "Rise" by Herb Alpert

"Rise" was co written by Randy Alpert, Herb's nephew.  Herb was looking to record new versions of "The Lonely Bull" and other Tijuana Brass songs to convert them to a dance format.  After being unsatisfied with the results, Alpert recorded "Rise" and knew it was the sound he wanted.  Shortly after the release of this song, it was used by the television soap opera General Hospital.  The single reached #1 on both the popular and Adult Contemporary charts and sold over a million copies.  It won a Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Performance.  

The Grammy Award for "Rise" was Alpert's third award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance.  He also won with "A Taste of Honey" and "What Now My Love".  Alpert is the only person in the Rock Era to reach #1 with a vocal and #1 with an instrumental.  Alpert, who received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, placed Top 10 hits in the 60, 70's and 80's.  

23.  "Theme From 'Star Wars'" by Meco

On May 25, 1977, Meco Menardo watched the movie Star Wars on Opening Day.  By the second day, he had watched it four times and would do several more times over the weekend.  In a matter of weeks, Meco composed a disco version of John Williams' theme song.  The single reached #1 for two weeks in 1977 and sold over two million copies.  The album was nominated for Best Pop Instrumental Performance.

Meco played trombone in the Cadet Band at West Point.  Although they weren't involved in creating the music, Meco assembled a show band to perform the music he had created.  Meco also composed albums based on The Wizard of Oz,Superman,  Close Encounters of the Third Kind and An American Werewolf in London.  

22.  "Chariots of Fire" by Vangelis

"Chariots of Fire" was used as the opening and closing themes for the incredible movie of the same name about the British track and field team in the 1924 Olympics.  The song was #1 on both the popular chart and the Adult Contemporary chart.  The movie won the Academy Award as the Best Picture and deservedly so.

Vangelis won an Oscar for Best Original Score for the Soundtrack album.  He was formerly in the duo Jon & Vangelis, Jon being Jon Anderson from Yes.  Vangelis could not write or read music, but composed this song "by ear".

21. "Wipe Out" by Surfaris

The song was patterned after "Bongo Rock" by Preston Epps, which we already heard in The Top 100 Instrumentals of the Rock Era* at #89.  Drummer Ron Wilson gave one of the most famous drum solos ever recorded.  He later went on to set the make the Guinness Book of World Records with a continuous drum solo of 104 1/2 hours!  

While looking for a spot to record, they came across Dale Smallin, who later became their manager.  The Surfaris recorded "Surfer Joe" but realized they needed a second song to put on the flip side.  They weren't an instrumental band, so they recorded "Wipe Out" to be the B-side.  The first sound you hear is that of a broken 2 x 4 then Smallin can be heard with a maniacal laugh and then the words "Wipe Out!". 

Smallin  made 100 copies of the single that are today rare collector's items and released the song on his DFS Record label and also allowed Princess Records to release the song.  One of those copies found their way to Dot Records, a major label at the time.  Dot edited 10 seconds from the song and released the 45 with "Wipe Out" as the A-side.  And of course that is the song that became the big hit (#2 in 1961 and a million-seller)--"Surfer Joe"charted at #61 a few months later.

"Wipe Out" has been featured in numerous movies including the great ones Meet the Parents and Runaway Bride.  

Guitarist Jim Fuller's style has influenced many rock musicians.  He was later a member of the group the Seeds for a brief time.  The Surfaris later did the song "Point Panic", which is now a famous surfing spot in Hawai'i that is named after the song.  The group has reunited several times and are still performing in 2011.

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